Nigeria: Bayelsa Deputy Governor Appears in Tribunal Over Certificate Forgery Allegations

5 June 2020

Abuja — Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, yesterday appeared before the state Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja.

His appearance was in response to a subpoena order on him by the tribunal to appear yesterday to present the original copies of his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate.

However, there was a twist as the petitioner, candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM) in the November 16, 2019, governorship election in Bayelsa State, Mr. Vijah Opuama, turned around and prayed the tribunal to withdraw the subpoena application.

The petitioner said he no longer needed Ewhrudjakpo to testify for him as a witness before the tribunal.

Opuama was challenging Ewhrudjakpo's qualification to stand in the Bayelsa State governorship election on the ground that the deputy governor submitted a forged exemption certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the election.

The tribunal had in a subpoena last Tuesday ordered the state deputy governor to appear before it yesterday to produce the original copy of his disputed certificate, following an application to that effect by the petitioner.

Although the deputy governor initially challenged the subpoena application through a motion, however he changed his mind and presented himself in obedience to the order of the tribunal.

When the matter was called yesterday, Ewhrudjakpo was in court and indicated his readiness to testify.

However, in an unexpected turn, the petitioner's lawyer, Mr. Pius Dande, informed the tribunal of his client's intentions to withdraw the subpoena.

According to Dande, "There is an error on the face of the subpoena."

He said the subpoena was intended for the deputy governor to tender document and not bring him to court.

Dande said he had filed an application before the tribunal seeking to correct the error. But Mohammed Cirajo, who led the three-man tribunal, refused to grant the application.

Following the refusal of this request by the tribunal, Dande then made an oral application to withdraw the subpoena.

"I would like to apologise to the witness for bringing him to court on a subpoena that was never intended. I equally apologise to the inner bar and indeed the bench as no human is above error." he said.

Responding, the state Governor, Douye Diri's lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), expressed disappointment, describing the development as "a deliberate act of disrespect and the highest form of abuse of court process."

Uche noted that the petitioner had on two occasions refused to proceed with the trial on grounds that the deputy governor "must come here in person to testify as the petitioner's witness."

He added that despite the ban on interstate travels and local flights, "the petitioners subjected the deputy governor to this serious ordeal and exposure to risk and hardship."

Ewhrudjakpo's lawyer, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), on his part, prayed the court to award a consequential cost of N5 million against the petitioners.

In a short ruling, Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice Ibrahim Cirajo, held that "the tribunal cannot dictate to a party how to conduct its case," and went ahead to dismiss the application, however, without cost.

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